Sunday, November 17, 2013


Hillary Clinton's book “It Takes A Village” is, conceptually, quite simple. It consists entirely of a list of America's problems along with the solution for each. There are a lot of problems. In fact, it is surprising how many problems there are, but Hillary somehow comes up with a solution for each one. And the truly stunning aspect of “Village” is that each solution to each problem requires the federal government to get bigger in some way---for new rules to be written, or new taxes to be levied, or new government functionaries to be empowered. P.J. O'Rourke's famous two-sentence book review neatly captured the Hillary philosophy of governance: “Washington is the village. You are the child.”

As far as the Left is concerned, there is always a big-government solution. There is always a new bureaucracy to be built, or a wealth redistribution program to be expanded, or a new tax regimen to be imposed, or a freedom to be curtailed, or a world-government institution to be constructed. And after witnessing this process for several decades, those of us who do not share the statist utopian vision come to realize that the cart is actually pulling the horse. The “solutions” do not arise in response to the “problems.” Rather, the solutions are the entire point of the exercise. The goal is redistribution of wealth, or confiscation of property, or elimination of an inalienable right. The “problem” is identified only to justify the “solution.”

Otherwise, why would the “solutions” always be the same? If the global climate is getting warmer, why is the only “solution” to create international governing bodies with plenary powers and transfer vast amounts of wealth from rich nations to poor ones? If some people say things that offend other people, why is the only “solution” to use the coercive power of the government to silence the speakers? If there are a small number of Americans who find it difficult to secure medical care, why do all of us have to buy insurance products we don't want, pay for other people's abortions and buy Larry King his Viagra?

The list is endless. For public schools, the only “solution” the Left ever proposes is more taxes and more spending, no matter how much money has been wasted and no matter how many decades the schools have been failing to educate children. For the EPA, there is never a “solution” that does not limit a landowner's use of his property, that does not reduce its value, that does not impose the sort of centralized mandates that characterized the Soviet Union's environmental oversight at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. And if a lunatic shoots a dozen people for no apparent reason, why is the “solution” always to make it more difficult for me to defend myself against the next lunatic who comes along?

Never does the “solution” involve empowering individuals to make their own decisions and live their own lives. Instead, there are only new rules and new taxes, new licenses and permits, and the relentless attack on traditional freedoms.

When the Left agenda never changes, it is easy for us conservatives to see what's coming, and also to see that the Obamas and Bidens and Kerrys and Pelosis and Clintons who propose all these “solutions” don't care about me or my freedom or my republic, and have no real interest in the problems they claim to be so very concerned about. The “problems” are merely part of a necessary rhetorical exercise in the continuing process of gathering power into the state. Identifying a “problem” is simply a predicate to the exercise of a bit more coercion on the rest of us.“Power is not a means; it is an end,” wrote George Orwell. “The object of power is power.”


Tuesday, November 5, 2013


In a Rex Stout mystery from the 1930's, I recently stumbled across a discussion of ortho-cousins and cross-cousins, terms with which I was unfamiliar. Ortho-cousins are your first cousins from your parent's same-sex sibling. Cross cousins are your first cousins from your parent's opposite-sex sibling. Your father's brother's child is your ortho-cousin, as is your mother's sister's child. The child of your father's sister is your cross cousin, and so is the child of your mother's brother.

This distinction used to matter in a lot of places and it still matters in some. It is most significant with respect to incest laws and taboos. Though most of the world outside the US permits marriage between first cousins, there have always been places where ortho-cousin marriage was, and is, considered incestuous but cross-cousin marriage was permitted.

There are also places where ortho-cousin marriage is preferred. In England several hundred years ago, for example, property (especially land) passed exclusively to male descendants, and a marriage of a man to his father's brother's daughter would have the effect of keeping the family's wealth intact. This principle remains important across the Islamic world, where cousin marriage is very common. In much of the Middle East, marriage to a father's brother's daughter (“FBD”) is considered a man's legal right, and the FBD may not marry another unless the man consents to waive his rights.


On Saturday, October 12, the SNAP (food stamp) program in Louisiana experienced a series of service interruptions involving the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system. When a SNAP recipient takes food items to a cashier and presents a SNAP card, the EBT system compares the amount of the purchases with the amount of food stamp money the bearer has available in their account. There's a limit each month, in other words. On October 12, however, when SNAP cards were presented to cashiers at a Wal-Mart in Springhill, Louisiana, the limits did not appear on the cashier's screen.

This presented the management at Springhill Wal-Mart with a choice. They could shut down SNAP sales completely until the problem was fixed, they could apply a per-customer limit to SNAP sales ($30, let's say), or they could simply allow any and all SNAP sales to proceed regardless of the quantity.

For whatever reason, they chose the last of these alternatives. And all hell broke loose. Not only did SNAP customers race through the aisles filling up multiple carts of food but they called their friends and alerted them to the bonanza in progress. Within minutes, the store was packed with “customers” frantically filling carts with whatever food products they could stuff into their shopping carts, getting the food through the check lanes and into their cars, and then returning to the store to fill up more carts. All of it was a race to get as much food out of the Wal-Mart before the EBT system got repaired. When SNAP limits finally did begin to show up on cash registers, people simply abandoned their full carts and walked out.

This was not, let us remember, one or two or five or ten dishonest people. This was a frenzy of thievery that subsided only when the computer got fixed. Aisle after aisle and shelf after shelf of canned goods, dairy, meats and frozen foods were emptied. At the end, the only food left in the store was what had been abandoned in shopping carts when the EBT system recovered.

The news reports were bland, of course. It was an odd story from a Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart is basically the lowest common denominator of nationwide retail so it produces its share of odd stories, but there was no hint of what this event said about the people involved or the human condition or the human spirit. Even to raise such an issue, or suggest that what people did was morally suspect, would be wrong or judgmental or even (OMG!) racist, I guess.

And I thought, “Wow. Am I really that out of it? Am I truly that old? Am I the only person left in America who remembers when poor people had dignity?” Because I do remember it. I remember it quite clearly. When I was young, in the 1950's, there were a lot more poor people around, both black and white, and they had a lot less than poor people do today, but the sort of instinctive stealing that occurred in Louisiana would never have happened back then. People may have been poor but they worked for what they had and they respected themselves. They got dressed up on Sunday, and they dressed their kids as well, and they all went to church together. There are still such people around, of course. The “working poor” are still among us; in fact, I work with some of them. But there are not nearly as many as there used to be, and there are a lot more of the debased welfare-dependent shoppers in Springhill than there ever were before.

Contrary to left-wing ideology, crime and poverty do not correlate very well with each other. The Great Depression, for example, was a time of very low crime rates across the US. The kind of thing that happened in the Springhill Wal-Mart has very little to do with poverty and a great deal to do with the loss of self-respect that accompanies dependency on welfare benefits. What happened at Springhill is what regularly happens now that socialist values have become embedded in the permanent underclass that was created by LBJ's Great Society and nurtured by the American left for the past fifty years.

A couple days ago, the Senate Budget Committee reported that over the past five years, the US government had distributed $3.7 trillion in means-tested welfare benefits. This does not include purely state welfare benefit payments and it does not include benefits that are not means-tested, like Social Security. The $3.7 trillion is about five times the amount spent by the federal government over the same period on education and transportation.

Margaret Thatcher spent her eleven years as Prime Minister re-privatizing industries that British socialists had nationalized in post-war Britain. In her speeches, she often emphasized that the problem with socialism, in Europe and the UK, was not merely that it was an ineffective economic system, but that it destroyed human beings:

“Socialism turned good citizens into bad ones; it turned strong nations into weak ones; it promoted vice and discouraged virtue . . . it transformed formerly hard working and self- reliant men and women into whining, weak and flabby loafers. Socialism was not a fine idea that had been misapplied, it was an inherently wicked idea.”


In the ancient art of falconry, there are two methods of hunting ducks.

In the first, the falconer takes his raptor to a pond and, if he is lucky, finds some ducks. After tossing a stone into the water so the birds take flight, he then releases his falcon. Soaring and swooping at up to 80mph, the falcon hits a duck in midair, kills it and brings it back to earth. The falconer races to the spot where the falcon is now feeding on the duck and steals the catch, giving the falcon a bit of meat for his trouble. That is how it is still done today.

The second method is no longer considered sporting, but it required great skill and provided a hefty reward when it succeeded. The hunter would seek a brace of ducks sitting on shallow water and, when he found them, would silently unhood his falcon and release it into the air. With the falcon circling above the pond, the ducks were now trapped. They would never take flight with a bird of prey in the air above them, so the hunter would wade into the water, wring their necks one by one and put them in a sack. All except one, of course. He would throw the last duck into the sky as a reward for his hunting partner.

The relationship between man and falcon is the fascinating aspect of falconry. It's a business arrangement, pure and simple. The bird is sheltered, fed and cared for. In return, he provides assistance to the man when they hunt. But the birds are not “domesticated.” A man and his falcon never become friends and the falcon remains a wild animal throughout the relationship, which may last years or may end whenever the falcon decides to fly away and not return. And they sometimes do.


On Monday,October 21, a 12-year-old boy in a Sparks, Nevada school fatally shot a teacher and wounded two other students before killing himself. Two days later, the papers reported:

As they try to understand what prompted a 12-year-old boy to open fire at his school, district officials were examining an anti-bullying video that includes a dramatization of a child taking a gun on a school bus to scare aggressors.”

The video was shown to the shooter and his fellow students as part of National Bullying Prevention Month. The behavior depicted in the film was apparently presented as a “bad example.” This disturbed 12-year-old, however, may have had a different interpretation.

This dreadful tale follows on the heels of a report in the Journal of Criminology. Seokjin Jeong, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at UT-Arlington, reported that their study of anti-bullying programs in all fifty states revealed that students exposed to these programs were actually more likely to become victims of bullying after exposure to a program. He theorized that anti-bullying programs teach potential bullies new bullying techniques. They also may illustrate ways to escape responsibility by using the “right language” when confronted by teachers or social workers.

The term “unintended consequences” is insufficient here. We need a different term to describe training programs for schools that actually make an undesirable activity more likely to occur. “Paradoxical consequences”? “Indoctrination boomerang”?

D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is the most famous of these feel-good time-wasters. It has now been around for thirty years and has been dumped into the heads of tens of millions of American schoolchildren. Yet there have now been a dozen studies concluding, as did the National Institute of Justice in 1998, that children subjected to the D.A.R.E. curriculum are more likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and use drugs than kids who somehow manage to avoid it.

There are many reasons for this phenomenon. One is the use of role-playing games where children may act out scenes of bullying (or purchasing drugs) in order to learn how NOT to do those things. In fact, role-playing can actually provide practice in activities that children might otherwise be too frightened to engage in.

The other reason often cited for indoctrination boomerang is that the programs tend to “glamorize” the behavior they seek to eradicate. There is some truth in this, I suppose, in the sense that spending millions of bucks on drug education or anti-bullying programs (instead of teaching math, for example), delivers a message that these topics are way more important than they actually are.

A bigger problem, however, is that children are lied to by the adults who design these things, the kids resent it, and they retaliate by ignoring the advice. Kids hate being lied to, they often know when it is happening, and the natural childish reaction is defiance. D.A.R.E. never tells kids that drugs are fun, or cool, or can get you laid, for example. And anti-bullying programs never teach kids that the most effective way to stop a bully is to pop him in the beezer. Never.

The lefties who create these things get millions in tax dollars in order to usurp the role in moral education that families have always provided. They know better than the rest of us poor slobs, you see, what our children should be taught about right and wrong, bad habits, what it means to be a good person, and so on. In order to advance what Thomas Sowell calls “the vision of the anointed,” they take money out of our own pockets and use it to inculcate our children with their superior values.

It's wonderful that many kids are not fooled. The phenomenon of indoctrination boomerang is something I celebrate. My son, for example, might not be the libertarian free-market conservative he is if he had not attended Masterman High School in Philadelphia and had not been force-fed the silliest imaginable left-wing drivel every day. He and others like him give me hope. They react to the lies and the intrusion into conscience in admirable ways.

If these indoctrination programs were 100% effective, I guess none of our kids would be bullies and none of our kids would ever fire up a doobie, and no guy would ever pat a girl's bottom in the hallway in high school, and nobody would ever eat a potato chip or buy a 32-ounce Coke. Some of those things might be good in some sense, but there's a price to pay for letting the anointed tell everyone what to think and how to behave, and the price is that we all wind up living in a place very much like East Germany.